Make sure the foundations are there for getting the nation to take up sports
Participation targets are laudable, but building the base to meet them means rules must be enforced and proper oversight practised
China’s success at the Olympic Games has emboldened authorities to go a step further and get the nation taking up sport. Ambitious goals have been set to get the majority of the population onto tracks, playing fields and into swimming pools at least once a week. With many people having sedentary lifestyles, rates of ageing ballooning and numbers suffering obesity and diabetes skyrocketing, there is every reason to encourage the idea. To be effective, though, there have to be sufficient and properly managed facilities that are safe to use.
The plan, unveiled last month by the State Council, envisages that by 2020, 700 million people will be exercising once a week and 435 million at least three times. Sports-related industries will be encouraged, with the aim of expanding turnover to 1.5 billion yuan (HK$1.77 billion) from 900 million yuan in 2014. The per capita area for sports and exercise venues has been raised from 1.5 square metres to 1.8. With funding, resolve and oversight, there is no reason why these laudable targets cannot be attained.
Yet an order to halt construction of running tracks and playgrounds in schools gives cause for caution. A recent investigation by state broadcaster CCTV found that industrial waste was used to make the synthetic surfaces. When used, they gave off hazardous fumes that, in a number of cases, caused children to suffer ailments including nose bleeds, headaches and nausea. The Education Ministry has admitted that government safety standards need to be raised, but there is also a need for better government supervision and more inspections.
The health, economic and social benefits of sport have been well documented. Regular exercise is fundamental to a society’s well-being, while social contact and personal enjoyment comes from such activities. The requirement that local governments channel more funds into sports to build facilities and buy services from private firms is good for the nation. But a solid foundation also has to be created through better standards, enforcement of rules and regulations and oversight to prevent corrupt practices.